Computational Social Sciences is the field of study which largely involves the application of digital tools in the research of humanities. It ranges from the understanding of simple human patterns to large-scale data-driven mechanisms. The closest Computational Social Sciences have come to being described in fiction is the science of Psychohistory in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. While the Galactic Empire is fairly advanced in mathematics, statistics, and sociology, Computational Social Sciences is slightly different in its methodology. It can be just as predictive in extensive human behavioral studies, if not more so, with the utilization of digital technology. The only failing of Psychohistory is that it is applicable only to a scale of a large population of the order of a few planets at the very least. It is not applicable at an individual level. Computational Social Scientists strive to understand the grand arrangement of the world even at the individual level, as in the case of Agent-based modelling.
However, Computational Social Sciences is not limited to predictions. The study of social information with simulation models has many advantages in social network and content analysis. Spatial, Geo-spatial, or even textual analysis of such models produces anomaly detection.
Historical geographical information systems are now popular in museum spaces. This allows the person to interactively know the minute to minute details of important days in the world’s collective past. As a result, Computational Social Sciences promulgates humanity’s collective heritage. The Venice Time Machine developed by the launched by the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice recreates 20th Century Venice. It uses text processing, keyword cross-referenced algorithms, etc to visualize a day in the life of Venetians.
Computational Social Sciences makes a real world impact when people’s experiences connect over a large and complicated tapestry. Urban planning is another facet of social sciences that computation can aid in. IQuantNY mapped out the number of parking tickets at each station in New York City using Geographic Information System only to find out that the NYPD was ticketing legally parked cars. With the help of open government data, the possibilities are endless for anyone to translate their work into an authentic action.
In the film, Mindwalk, a physicist argues that the mechanistic system of inquiry is at an end. Instead of picking apart scientific fields to their bottom-up approach, she asserts that the holistic perspective over the nature of scientific study will benefit humankind and surrounding ecosystem. This, in effect describes Computational Social Sciences, even if it is seemingly yet another new field of social studies.
- Asimov, Isaac. The Foundation Trilogy. New York: Ballantine Books, 1983.
- Abbott, Alison (2017). “The ‘time machine’ reconstructing ancient Venice’s social networks”. Nature. 546 (7658): 341–344.
- Capra, Bernt, Floyd Byars, and Fritjof Capra. Mindwalk. United States: Atlas Leasing GmbH, 1990.